By Jim Flieler, VP of Sales Canada for Charlotte Products Ltd

One public space that has not experienced much of a decrease in foot traffic over the pandemic is the grocery store. We’ve all become accustomed to wearing masks while grocery shopping, maintaining physical distance while in the aisles and touching our produce a lot less than we used to. One other fact about grocery shopping that has changed for good due to the COVID-19 pandemic is the cleaning and sanitization of grocery carts. Whether you maintain a grocery store, or are just a casual shopper, read below to learn the truth about grocery store carts.

You probably won’t get COVID-19 from a dirty shopping cart but there’s still a good chance it could make you sick. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance that stated risk for transmitting COVID-19 on surfaces remains low. The virus is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets from human to human. However, the shopping cart still is a potential host to microorganisms. In fact, one study from The University of Arizona found that E. coli were present in greater numbers on shopping cart handles than on other common surfaces like ATM buttons, escalators, diaper changing tables and restaurant tabletops.

You should be cleaning much more than just the push handle. Many stores have systems for wiping down the push handles on shopping carts, and shoppers who wipe down their own carts focus primarily on the handle. However, the sides of the cart and the fold-out basket handles and bottom tray also harbor germs, from both human touch and fluids from products, including raw meat, that have been placed in them. Shopping carts should be wiped down thoroughly between each use.

Wet cart handles are not safe. In an effort to quickly sanitize cart handles, stores have been known to put carts with still-wet handles on the floor for shoppers to grab. This defeats the purpose of cleaning carts at all because a wet surface is a transfer point for bacteria and viruses. Consider finding a disinfectant with a faster dwell time or establishing a system that allows for thorough drying of cleaned surfaces before use to make sure you aren’t just cleaning carts for show.

Children will lick your shopping cart handles. In our five Critical Elements of Disinfectant Security, we recommend a potable water rinse on food contact surfaces or surfaces that could come into contact with children’s mouths. Babies and toddlers are known to lick and chew on shopping cart handles when sitting in the fold-out basket. While it may not be realistic to fully rinse every handle in a fast-paced store, you might consider finding the safest possible cleaning and disinfecting products. A simple wet wipe after your shopping cart is disinfected could also go a long way toward protecting the youngest shoppers. (but don’t forget to let it dry!)

People will put contaminated wipes anywhere. If you have a system that encourages shoppers to use publicly provided disinfecting wipes to wipe down carts themselves, you must make it very easy for them to dispose of those wipes in a receptacle right away. Otherwise, you can expect to find contaminated wipes strewn throughout your store. We recommend placing a garbage bin directly under your wipe station with a clear sign asking shoppers to please throw out their wipes in order to create a safe environment. Consider adding a sentence or two about the importance of wiping down carts. This is a good opportunity to broadcast your standards of cleanliness upfront. It will help show your shoppers you care.

There is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were still learning about the ways the virus was transmitted, many people were wiping down their groceries after they returned home from the store. We’ve since learned that COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, and that it is not known to be transmitted through food packaging.

Wiping carts does not substitute for hand washing. Hand washing has held steady as one of the most important steps we can take to stop the spread of COVID-19 along with many other illnesses. Grocery stores may consider providing hand sanitizer stations at the entrances and exits to their stores to make hand washing difficult to avoid and to help their patrons feel well taken care of.

As we hopefully soon emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it will continue to be important to keep up with all of the enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols we adapted in our public spaces because of it. In many ways, we were long overdue to revisit and improve cleaning and disinfecting protocol in public spaces. We encourage all stores to keep cleaning their shopping carts to keep their employees and patrons safer and healthier for now and in the years to come.